My prediction for an immigration reform bill this year

I predict that Congress will not resolve in conference committee its bicameral differences over the legilsation. Thus, every member of Congress will be able to report to her or his district at least one vote on immigration reform, without there being a bill that gets to the President to sign.
All parties now, having taken the measure of public sentiment and having inspected their voting constituencies, feel that being on record for passing a bill is at least marginally better in terms of the November Congressional races than not being on record for passing a bill. A conference committee deadlock allows everyone to say that she or he has tried to pass a bill.
I have a very hard time with the notion that House Republican conservatives will retreat from their anti-guest worker stance. And the Senate will nevet drop its relatively strong guest worker program.

How much illegal workers pay to Social Security: over $6B

One of the many ironies in the country’s upheavals over the illegal immigrant issue is that, right now, Social Security is collecting over $6 billion a year in payroll deductions from these workers. This is the size of the annual take – the estimate for 2002 is $6.4 billion – flowing into a suspense account because the social security number used for the deduction was not recognized on the government’s database. None of this money today can or is claimed by the workers making the contributions.
The total recorded payroll associated with this inflow is over $200 billion and growing by about $50 billion, suggesting that more and more illegal immigrants are participating in formal wage income as opposed to cash compensation.
The total take adds up to about 1.5% of American payrolls. Assume that these workers are being paid on average one third of legal Americans. This suggests that 4.5% of the contributors to social security today are illegal workers.
— from the NY Times.

Millions of illegal working immigrants may be here on expired visas

According to an article in the Boston Globe, a large minority of illegal workers may have entered the U.S. with a valid visa, then stayed on after the visa’s expiration. The Globe estimates that 40% of all illegal immigrants (which it estimates at 12 million) are here in this manner. This expired visa figure seems to be very high, but I am willing to grant that there are many over-extenders of visas and that a large share of these people work. I expect that the vast majority of non-Hispanic illegal workers in the U.S. are here by way of visa overstays. It is possible that the total 12 million estimate needs to be increased to reflect their numbers, for instance in computer-related jobs.
The Globe reports that “Immigration analysts say visa violators represent a greater portion of undocumented immigrants in the Boston area, with its huge student population and large concentration of European immigrants.

But no amount of border enforcement will have an impact on ”visa overstays,” because they don’t cross the border illegally in the first place, said Deborah Meyers, a senior analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington think tank. ”The overstay component has been overlooked,” Meyers said. ”It’s very important to make sure you’re actually trying to solve the whole problem, not just the most visible parts of the problem. . . . From a security perspective, in some ways the overstay population is a bigger threat.”

Two of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers were in the United States on expired visas. At least six others had otherwise violated immigration laws but were nonetheless able to stay in the United States, according to the 9/11 Commission report. Of the $1.95 billion border security request Bush filed last week, only $30 million will go toward tracking down and monitoring those who overstay legally obtained visas, said Michael P. Jackson, deputy secretary of Homeland Security.

Department of Homeland Security had only 51 full-time agents assigned to track down the more than 4 million people who overstayed visas and were in the country in 2004. Of the 301,046 leads the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency received in a one-year period on possible visa violations, fewer than half were investigated. Only 4,164 were referred to field agents to pursue, and 671 apprehensions were made.
There is a program called US-VISIT which photographs visa holders entering the country. But, according to the Globe, “US-VISIT has serious limitations. It tracks everyone entering the country, but it is a pilot program, tracking only those leaving through 12 airports and two seaports. Expanding that program nationwide is several years off. ”

Mistreatment of H-2B immigrant guest forestry workers

In late 2005 the Sacrament Bee published the best expose of occupational dangers for immigrant Hispanic labor in some time. The focus: works who despite the supposed protections of so-called H-2B forest guest worker program for agriculture were exploited in the common fashion: exposed to job risks for which they were unprepared, cheating on payroll, and generally deficient working conditions. Some 10,000 works have come to the U.S. to “plant trees across the nation and thin fire-prone woods out West as part of the Bush administration’s Healthy Forests Initiative.” The Bee reports: “A nine-month Bee investigation based on more than 150 interviews across Mexico, Guatemala and the United States and 5,000 pages of records unearthed through the Freedom of Information Act has found pineros are victims of employer exploitation, government neglect and a contracting system that insulates landowners – including the U.S. government – from responsibility.”
Confined Space has summarized the Bee’s articles. In this posting and future ones, I will excerpt extensively from it, starting with….

…in the backwoods, where pineros often lack adequate training, protective gear or medical supplies, where they sweat, struggle and suffer, the current forest guest worker program casts a shadow across its future…..Across Honduras and Guatemala, 14 guest workers lay in tombs, victims of the worst non-fire-related workplace accident in the history of U.S. forests.

Continue reading Mistreatment of H-2B immigrant guest forestry workers

“Blood Sweat and Fear” – Meat and Poultry Plants (Human Rights Watch, 2005)

The following is the executive summary of a 185 page report issued by the Human Rights Watch in January 2005. The report is entitled Blood, Sweat, and Fear: Workers’ Rights in U.S. Meat and Poultry Plants. (The Summary is also available in Spanish: Sangre, sudor y miedo: Derechos de los trabajadores en las plantas cárnicas y avícolas de Estados Unidos.
This is probably the most referenced report on working conditions of immigrant workers in the huge meat processing industry. It is unfortunately light on injury and fatality data, but is worth looking at as it puts the problem of occupational health and safety of these workers into a broad, international context.
The Executive Summary:
Workers in American beef, pork, and poultry slaughtering and processing plants perform dangerous jobs in difficult conditions. Dispatching the nonstop tide of animals and birds arriving on plant kill floors and live hang areas is itself hazardous and exhausting labor.1 After slaughter, the carcasses hurl along evisceration and disassembly lines as workers hurriedly saw and cut them at unprecedented volume and pace.
What once were hundreds of head processed per day are now thousands; what were thousands are now tens of thousands per day. One worker described the reality of the line in her foreman’s order: “Speed, Ruth, work for speed! One cut! One cut! One cut for the skin; one cut for the meat. Get those pieces through!” Said another: “People can’t take it, always harder, harder, harder! [mas duro, mas duro, mas duro!].”
Constant fear and risk is another feature of meat and poultry labor. Meatpacking work has extraordinarily high rates of injury. Workers injured on the job may then face dismissal. Workers risk losing their jobs when they exercise their rights to organize and bargain collectively in an attempt to improve working conditions. And immigrant workers—an increasing percentage of the workforce in the industry—are particularly at risk. Language difficulties often prevent them from being aware of their rights under the law and of specific hazards in their work. Immigrant workers who are undocumented, as many are, risk deportation if they seek to organize and to improve conditions.

Continue reading “Blood Sweat and Fear” – Meat and Poultry Plants (Human Rights Watch, 2005)

House, Senate and Bush ideas on illegal immigrants compared

The NY Times published today a checklist comparison of these three points of view. You can find the president’s address in Workingimmigrants.com here.

Full Text of House Bill (H.R.4437) here
Full Text of Senate Bill (S.2611) here
Temporary Worker Program
House (passed): No such provisions. Eliminates the Diversity Visa Lottery Program.
Senate (not yet passed): Creates a temporary worker program, with a potential path to legal permanent residence for individuals currently outside the U.S. Employers seeking to hire foreign workers would first have to try to recruit an available American worker.
President in speech: Has called on Congress to pass a guest worker program for more than two years. Said that “to secure our border, we must create a temporary worker program.”
Legalization of Undocumented Immigrants
House: No such provisions.
Senate: Provides legalization criteria for three different groups. The major one, called the “Earned Legalization Program,” would provide a path to legal permanent residence for undocumented immigrants who have been here for five years and employed for three of those and who meet other requirements.
President: While rejecting “an automatic path to citizenship,” Mr. Bush said that immigrants should be given a chance to gain citizenship after they “pay a meaningful penalty for breaking the law.”
Worksite Enforcement

Continue reading House, Senate and Bush ideas on illegal immigrants compared

Bush’s May 15 speech on illegal immigration in outline and full text

President Bush in his May 15 speech for the White House presented a five point plan – four substantive and one rhetorical – to resolve issues with illegal immigration. He did not address any other immigration issues, such as changing the quota for legal immigration
POINT ONE: Beef up border controls and handling of arrested persons. He said that by the end of his presidency the size of the Border Patrol will have doubled from 9,000 to 18,000. State and local law enforcement authorities will be given special training. He will assign 6,000 National Guardsmen, drawn apparently from border states. More detention center beds will be created.
Proper training and coordination with state and local law enforcement is a difficult undertaking. I have addressed this a bit in an analysis of a recently passed illegal immigration bill enacted by Georgia.
POINT TWO: Temporary worker program. He clearly wanted to keep this topic low profile. Out of a 2,700 word speech he devoted on paragraph, about 200 words, to this program. I have covered this topic extensively. Search under “guest worker” and “Judiciary” with my pessimistic assessment of passage potential this year.
POINT THREE: Tamper proof identification to verify legal status of workers. I have addressed the tamper proof card issue here, and – regarding driver license “Real ID”, here. Also, go here for how federal agencies do not cooperate.
POINT FOUR: A path to citizenship for illegal immigrants here already for more than a few years. “They will have to wait in line behind those who played by the rules…” The Pew Hispanic Center at one place estimated that 40% of unauthorized persons (4.4 million) as of March 2005 have been in the United States since 2000 which means that 60% (6.6 million) have been here since before 2000.
It has also made these tenure estimates: Time in the US: Five years or more: 6.7 million; Two to five years: 2.8 million; Less than two years: 1.6 million, Total: 11.1 million
POINT FIVE: a rhetorical flourish – requiring immigrants to speak English. This point sort of sailed in from nowhere.
Only 3% of unauthorized Hispanic persons say they speak English “very well.”

Continue reading Bush’s May 15 speech on illegal immigration in outline and full text

Rare use of Social Security numbers and IRS data to search for illegal immigrant workers

Liz Chandler of Knight Ridder has reported on an impasse in the federal government which has prevented the use of federal records to locate and arrest illegal immigrants. “Most immigrants simply use Social Security numbers to get work, experts say. They make up numbers, buy them on forged cards, or steal them,’ she wrote. But prosecutors cannot easily access this information, and cannot access IRS data at all. And Social Security and the IRS do not cooperate.
Excerpting from her article:
Two federal agencies are refusing to turn over a mountain of evidence that investigators could use to indict the nation’s burgeoning workforce of illegal immigrants and the firms that employ them. The IRS and the Social Security Administration routinely collect strong evidence of potential workplace crimes, including names and addresses of millions of people who are using bogus Social Security numbers, their wage records and the identities of the bosses who knowingly hire them. The two agencies don’t analyze their data to root out likely immigration fraud – and they won’t share their millions of records so that law enforcement agencies can do that, either. Privacy laws, they say, prohibit them from sharing their files with anyone, except in rare criminal investigations.

Continue reading Rare use of Social Security numbers and IRS data to search for illegal immigrant workers

Political pork and the tamper-proof identification card

The NY Times today ran a long story on how Homeland Security’s lagging efforts to prepare such a card have been in part controlled by a Kentucky congressman referred in his own district as Prince of Pork. Other efforts to produce a reliable card such as the Real ID program for motor vehicles are largely dead in the water. (State motor vehicle departments have a hard enough time answering their phones.) Until one is available, it is very difficult to regulate the movement of illegal immigrants. Concerned as I am about the dangers of such a card to civil liberties, I believe that a tamper proof card can be valuable in certain instances to protect the public as well as the guarantee certain rights and benefits to the carrier.
Following are excerpts from the article:
The Department of Homeland Security has invested tens of millions of dollars and countless hours of labor over the last four years on a seemingly simple task: creating a tamperproof identification card for airport, rail and maritime workers. Yet nearly two years past a planned deadline, production of the card, known as the Transportation Worker Identification Credential, has yet to begin.
Instead, the road to delivering this critical antiterrorism tool has taken detours to locations, companies and groups often linked to [13 termer] Representative Harold Rogers, a Kentucky Republican who is the powerful chairman of the House subcommittee that controls the Homeland Security budget. Work has even been set aside for a tiny start-up company in Kentucky that employs John Rogers, the congressman’s son.

Continue reading Political pork and the tamper-proof identification card

Census Bureau reports on Hispanic growth rate

I have been searching for the best media report on these findings, and Jim Quiggle sent me a copy of CNN’s. Hispanics have been and will continue to account for over a third of the country’s population increase. “The Population Resource Center cites statistics showing the average Hispanic woman will have three children in her lifetime; it’s 1.8 for non-Hispanic whites.”

It mutes the illegal-versus-legal debate,” said Linda Jacobson, director of domestic programs for the Population Reference Bureau in Washington. “We need to be more focused on how we meet the needs of children in immigrant families who are citizens.

Just look at the age demographics: “Census statistics also show that 45 percent of children under age 5 are from a racial or ethnic minority. The median age for Hispanics — the point at which half are older and half are younger — was 27.2 years in 2005. It was 30.0 years for blacks and 40.3 years for white non-Hispanics.”